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Men’s basketball preview: Gophers try to summon home court magic against Illinois

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Prime opportunity for NCAA Tournament resume on the table Saturday

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

This is all coming together quite nicely. Minnesota protected its road losing streak on Wednesday against Indiana, letting the Hoosiers run away late en route to a 10-point loss and continue their inability to win on the road in 2020-21. But they lost more than the game, when it was reported that Gabe Kalscheur, the team’s lockdown defender and one of its better scorers, would be lost for 3-4 weeks with a broken finger suffered in practice.

While it opens the door for players like Jamal Mashburn Jr. and Tre’ Williams, it’s a devastating blow to the team’s defensive prowess, as Kalscheur was considered one of the conference’s best defenders.

Are the Gophers reeling? It feels like it, though they are just two games removed from a two-game winning streak. They now get a humungous home opportunity against Illinois, where a win would go a long ways to securing their NCAA Tournament hopes. And the Gophers have already rattled off home wins against Ohio State, Michigan and Iowa this season. It’s not out of the question.

But with Kalscheur out and Liam Robbins largely hobbled, Minnesota will have a stiff test on Saturday.

Essentials:

Opponent:

Illinois Fighting Illini (15-5, 11-3)

Date and Time:

Saturday, Feb. 20 @ 2:30 p.m. CT

Location:

Williams Arena

TV:

FOX

Radio:

KFAN 100.3-FM

Tell me more about the opponent.

Illinois introduced us to Minnesota’s road woes early this season when they dusted the Gophers by 27 points (they were up by 36 at one point). That was two months ago — we were such sweet, young, naive children back then.

Of course, two months later we are hardened adults who know that this team can just as easily take down Illinois at home by 20 as it can lose by 50 or more on the road. Since that abhorrent loss Illinois has ascended the polls and is now seen as one of the best teams in the Big Ten, if not the nation. The Illini are #5 in the AP Top 25 and are riding a six-game win streak.

The Illini are great in most offensive metrics and are a very good rebounding team. Ayo Dosunmo is on another planet, averaging 21 ppg, grabbing 6 rpg and dishing out 5 apg. He’s prone to the occasional off game, but don’t count on it.

And then there’s Kofi Cockburn, sixth in the conference in scoring, leading the B1G in rebounding and averaging a double-double. He abused Minnesota in the first meeting, with a season-high 33 points to go with 13 rebounds.

Trent Frazier rounds out the double digit scorers, averaging 10 ppg.

Predictions

Minnesota is at home, so anything can happen, but it feels like so long since we’ve seen “good” Minnesota, which may have been against Michigan a month ago. They will need to play great to beat the Illini, I’m just not sure they have the firepower to do it. Robbins will need to be exquisite and they will need to get full games from more than one of Williams, Mashburn and Both Gach. Sounds like a lot to ask given what we’ve seen lately.

Illinois 75 | Gophers 65